The International Detention Coalition (IDC) joins UNHCR and civil society in expressing concern about the Greek government’s decision to prolong detention of migrants beyond the 18 months permitted by the EU Returns Directive.

In March, the Greek State Legal Council, the legal service of the Greek administration, published an Advisory Opinion that migrants for whom a detention order had been issued could be detained indefinitely until they agreed to return to their home countries. The opinion was issued in response to a query from Greek police regarding 300 migrants who were about to be released because they had completed 18 months in detention and could not be returned within this period.  Although Advisory Opinions are not binding, it has reportedly been embraced by Greek police who are already implementing it.

UNHCR reacted by asking the Greek government to ‘review the decision resulting in the prolongation of detention beyond 18 months for all foreign nationals who are subject to return and whose removal has not been carried out yet. Instead, UNHCR recommends applying the relevant procedures provided by the Greek law, i.e. the issuance of decisions for the “postponement of removal” in this case’. It further reiterated that detention for the purposes of return should be imposed only as a last resort.

Vasilis Kerasiotis of the Greek Council for Refugees was quoted by ECRE as stating. “This is a clear violation of Greece’s obligations under the Return Directive. Extreme measures such as this one go beyond the rule of law and present alarming similarities to the unlawful deprivation of liberty as described in art. 325 of the Greek Criminal Code”.

Meanwhile, the NGO Medicins Sans Frontiers published a report calling on the Greek government to end the systematic and prolonged detention of migrants, which is having “devastating consequences on their health and dignity”. The report, entitled Invisible Suffering highlights the massive impact of detention on the physical and mental health of migrants and points out the gaps in healthcare provision and the absence of medical assessments, which lead to detainees with serious medical conditions being neglected or even being forced to interrupt their treatment.

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